MONDAY, Dec. 7, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Could the music of the 18th century classical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart help tiny infants born today?
Yes, suggests an Israeli study that found that listening for just 30 minutes a day helped premature babies use less energy, which may help them grow faster.
"Within 10 minutes of listening to Mozart music, healthy infants [born prematurely] had a 10 percent to 13 percent reduction of their resting energy expenditure," the study authors wrote. "We speculate that this effect of music on resting energy expenditure might explain, in part, the improved weight gain that results from this Mozart effect."
The findings were published online Monday in Pediatrics, and are slated to appear in the January print issue of the journal.
In the 1990s, researchers released a small study that found that when adults listened to a Mozart sonata they performed better on intelligence tests. Numerous studies have been done since, including studies on premature infants that have found the "Mozart effect" can decrease the heart rate, lower stress hormone levels and ease distressed behavior in premature infants, according to background information in the new study. Babies exposed to music have also shown an increase in their levels of oxygen and weight gain.
However, none of these studies have been able to look at how the music might be causing these changes.
To get an idea of how Mozart's music might help weight gain, the researchers designed a prospective, randomized trial that included 20 healthy babies who were born prematurely. The babies weren't eating on their own, but instead were being tube-fed consistent quantities of food.
The babies were randomly assigned to listen to no music or to Mozart for 30 minutes for two consecutive days.
During the first 10 minutes, the resting energy expenditure was similar in both groups. But during the next 10 minutes, the researchers noted a change in the babies who were exposed to Mozart -- their resting energy expenditure decreased, and the effect continued through the next 10-minute period as well. Overall, there was a 10 percent to 13 percent drop in resting energy expenditure.
"When you're born early, lots of the pathways in the brain are still being laid down and developing, and then babies are put in an environment where there are lots of unfamiliar sounds and other stimuli, which may cause sensory overload. Music may help decrease those noxious influences," said Dr. Cheryl Cipriani, director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Scott & White Memorial Hospital, in Temple, Texas. "It's an area that needs further explanation."
Dr. Beverly Brozanski, clinical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said that "developmental inputs, whether music or touch or something else, are very important to infant brain development."
Both experts said that while this study's results are intriguing, it's only a small pilot study, and that no definitive conclusions can be drawn from it.
Whether the effect seen in this study is exclusive to Mozart or could be replicated with other music is also unknown. The researchers suggest that the effect may be unique to Mozart because his music tends to repeat the melody more than music of other composers.
Brozanski said that she suspects that lullaby-type music that contains a soothing repetition would probably produce similar effects.
Cipriani said she doesn't know if playing different music would change the outcome, but like Brozanski, she suspects the repetition probably is key. "The baby is used to hearing a beat before it's born -- the whoosh of the blood, the heartbeat -- and it may be that certain types of music do a better job of soothing them and reminding them of the womb," she said.
Learn more about how a newborn experiences sound and other senses from the Nemours Foundation.